Friday, December 24, 2010

Geoff Johns: A Phantom Menace

Recently, I watched some interesting reviews of the Star Wars prequels. The link is here, and I highly advise checking it out. It's pretty crazy the things that they point out, such as the LACK OF A MAIN CHARACTER and LACK OF PLOT DETAILS and LIGHTSABERS ALL OVER THE ****ING PLACE. This was pretty disturbing to see on its own, but it got me thinking about the Blackest Night event and just Geoff Johns' recent work in general.

The main character of Blackest Night and the Green Lantern series isn't too much of a problem, given as the main series of GL has Hal Jordan, you know, The Green Lantern. John Stewart gets a little playtime too, but generally Hal has main billing. However, after Hal gets spirited away by Indigo-1 we have a split where the Atom and Mera are doing stuff and become protagonists of their own stories. This crossover has like 14 different protagonists derpin around until they all meet up in Coast City, where the white entity is conveniently located.

The whole entity-spectrum thing is pretty bogus too. I mean, it is a good way to make it so that Hal isn't responsible for that whole MURDERING THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS thing, but the constant use of these entities and how Parallax has to weasel his way into everyone. Ganthet gets it, Kyle get it, Hal gets it again, and in a recent issue Barry Allen gets it. Now that everyone has an entity who gives a damn about it. They're like the friggin' Pokemon of the DCU where everyone wants to collect them all so that they can get the legendary white entity.

Now, the entities are just sort of there. The real thing here is the emotional spectrum. This little thing gets thrown in there and raises a few eyebrows. I can get behind a Green Lantern having enough willpower to create constructs and such with their ring. That's pretty cool. The emotional spectrum though makes less and less sense the more I think about it.

Lets break it down real quick. Fear I can accept because they already have parallax and sinestro so whatever lets move on. The Zamaronians and the Star Sapphires also appeared earlier so that also I guess is acceptable. I don't like the fact that they felt it necessary to include the skeletons of Hawkgirl and Hawkman as their power source because that makes absolutely no sense at all. Now, the blue lanterns only get introduced because of the red lanterns, and the orange lantern is just comic relief. The indigo tribe serves solely as a vehicle for the plot. That's it.

Another thing I don't like is how the red and yellow lanterns are all weird looking and scary and stuff. They are all alien and sort of scarifying because Geoff Johns is going with the general idea of what should scare us. All these things have odd numbers of mouths and limbs and stuff or are different colors. I think the use of lolscarymonsters takes away from the actual fear. The reason the Joker is scary is because he is an unpredictable sociopath who kills for fun. He is a unique and horrifying concept because he is a total wild card. But, you see all the crazy crap the red lanterns and Sinestro corps throw out and it barely phases anyone. One psychopath is scary. A whole army of them takes away from the uniqueness of the psychopath and just makes it a bunch of token bad guys for the GLC to kill (they can do that now because it's EXTREME) without any real sort of interesting emotion (even though the whole series is supposed to be about emotion apparently). The Red lanterns also have a cat. Yeah. Just this normal cat who got mad and now has a red ring on his tail. This would be interesting if it wasn't stupid. I know exactly why Geoff added the cat. He went on the internet and saw people making jokes about cats and decided to put one in the Red Lanterns because LOL I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGR. I could care less that there is a mad cat who has the powers of mad. It is minimally important in the grand scheme of things. It's just a cheap joke that subtracts from any sort of drama.

Speaking of cheap jokes, Geoff Johns has a very distinct style where he feels the need to insert lots of them. Whenever we have some sort of dramatic buildup or tension it's instantly kicked in the teeth by Hal cracking a joke about how Larfleeze looks like Gonzo or something. Also, the surplus of cluttered splash pages takes away from the power a splash page can have. It stops being cool really fast.

Another thing with the bigger splash pages is that they often feature like 8000 lanterns all slinging their rings around. I thought being a lantern was like this unique thing but apparently there are literally thousands of them. There are at least 3600 green lanterns alone, and seeing them all on one page makes it seem so incredibly commonplace. It's like the lightsabers in the new star wars. We see them all the time. It's like they're a price for some universal sweepstakes or when somebody buys the deluxe edition of Green Lantern: Rebirth, (or a Blackest Night tie-in at their local comic book store). Yeah, the epic battle scenes are kinda cool, but the more lanterns I see the less I care about them. I already have 4 from earth to care about and I really don't need more.

There are a few more comparisons I can make with the Star Wars prequels. One- the forced relationship with Padme and Anakin alongside Carol and Hal. Anakin and Padme are just two sort of attractive people who up and decide they are in love, or really, Anakin decides they are in love and Padme goes along with it for some reason. Carol and Hal at least have a history, but Hal has been with Cowgirl (who has not shown up in a while, by the way) for a decent amount of time. but then, Hal and Carol sort of kiss in Blackest Night for some reason and we're just supposed to accept it because they are supposed to be together. I mean, they are one of those comic book couples but not in the way Clark and Lois are. They have had more ups and downs than practically anyone. Don't force relationships because that's how it was in the Silver Age.

Speaking of Silver Age, Geoff Johns brings it all back. He brings back all these heroes and just sort of re-establishes a new silver age. I mean, I guess that's cool. It's just that these guys have had their stories told and it'd be nice to get some new ones.

Also, there's this part in the reviews I linked when they talk about how Yoda, the wise and powerful mystic decides to become a flippy swordsman. This is the same as Ganthet, wise guardian of the universe, becomes a regular Green Lantern and ringslings, even though he really doesn't need to. He has been displayed as being able to "crack a planet in half with a though" without a little ring. But then he activates the ring duplication power and adds to the ring overload even more.

There is a lot more I can talk about, and it gets worse with brightest day. I feel like Geoff needs a break or something. I don't see any substance in his work anymore. It just seems like he is an overzealous fanboy who nobody has put a leash on. Let him take a break from making everything SO EPIC and trying to tell the most important story, and just let the man be for a bit, then maybe we'll get something good. Meanwhile, I'm going to read Grant Morrison and wait until this whole thing calms down.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Catyclysm

I try and keep my personal stuff separate from what I write on here. However, given as there is a rather large overlap between video game culture and comic culture (read- two different species in the genus Nerd), I'd like to take a brief moment to talk about World of Warcraft.

WoW is the most successful MMORPG to date, with millions of subscribers who shell out 14.99 a month to play. It's built on the popular Warcraft series, which has a long established continuity and canon, as well as an enormous fan-base. This, of course, all belongs to Blizzard. This group of development geniuses has produced 3 huge titles, with the recent Starcraft 2 being a multimillion copy seller in days, and a professional sport in Korea (the good one in the south).

Not only do they have huge profits from incredible games but they also have an insanely loyal fanbase, to whom they sell comic books, action figures, trading card games, and even steins. STEINS. LET ME REITERATE: THERE IS A WORLD OF WARCRAFT STEIN. These are fanboys of the highest regard. I should know. I was one.

You see, way back in the days before I was this titan of awesome, I played a lot of WoW. I was no casual, to say the least. My main, a Gnome Rogue, was level 80, with around 35 days (840ish hours) of play time. This does not include tens of alts with a day or two on them, as well as my original hunter who had a good 5-7 days (120-168 hours). In short, I wasted a lot of time.

This is not to say it's not fun. It's a great game. Incredible, in fact, with a great world and so much lore you can be lost in it. It appeals to the base desire for progress we all have as well. Getting to the next level is like crack, and getting that bit of binary code that means your character has a new sword that does a whole 20 more fire damage is like winning the lottery. The game trains you subconsciously. It's powerfully addicting.

It also always seems like there are people having more fun that you, and the more you play the more fun you have. You'll see somebody zoom by on a flying mount and just NEED to have one. "That is the coolest thing I have ever seen", you'll say to yourself, and then grind for hours to get the gold to buy some gryphon or wyvern. You'll get it and it's great, and then you'll go back to the grind.

At a point the game stops feeling like a game and more like work. That's when the suck happens. You just grind and grind. Finally you get to the good content and it's all fun again. Then you hit the level cap.

This was the most fun and least fun of the time I played. I found myself stuck between trying to get into dungeons and raids, just waiting to find other people who wanted to kill the same guy as me. I spent more time waiting than playing, which takes a lot of fun out of the game. As a rogue, i was not in demand for raids. Everyone wanted tanks or healers, and I was neither. It was a lonely place for the stealth class.

So, in April of 2009 I quit. I have not regretted the decision to go cold turkey. I don't think that it was a coincidence that my life got a lot better after I stopped playing WoW, but that's another story. I haven't wanted to play at all, but when I'm on stumbleupon late at night and I find myself on a page about World of Warcraft, I find it hard not to care the slightest bit about a new raid or content. I was full on addicted for a while, I admit it, and being reminded about the game always makes me think of how much I enjoyed playing it.

All this new Cataclysm stuff now has gotten me thinking about it. I'm interested to see what they do, but at the same time I don't want to get sucked into that mess again. I know it sounds stupid, after all WoW is just a stupid game, but I got way too deep into that mess. I can still rattle off lore and stats in my head. I can remember lucky item drops or sweet kills. I can also remember being up until three in the morning because I was lonely and bored and angst-ridden.

Cataclysm is like the crappy boyfriend who you've broken up with more times than you can count because, lets be honest he ruined your life, coming back saying "baby, look, I've changed". I want to see if it's better, or if the Barrens looks cooler, or if there are new quests and maybe Gnomes have their city back (it's been YEARS). But, that said, I don't want to get hurt again. I don't want to relapse. I know it's trying to be a new game, but it's also the same old crap.

It was an addiction. It was an unhealthy way for me to avoid problems and pretend to be some lovable rogue hero when in reality I was kind of a jerk who needed therapy more than experience points. Facing that reality was the last thing I wanted to do, and so I found a virtual world to hide in. Some people have drugs, some people have booze, and I had a video game. It sounds so stupid now that I'm actually writing all this down, but back then I bought into that. Even though I had no job and now girlfriend, even though my grades sucked, even though I was not as awesome as I thought I was I had a level 80 rogue with some epic gear. I had slain dragons and saved worlds. So what if I was a C- student?

I look back on a lot of that with regret. I get the feeling I missed out on a lot because I was too busy sitting in front of my laptop playing with strangers. I wasn't even playing with real life friends, as most people do. I was alone. I might have been on a server with ten thousand people in chat, but I was by myself late at night, and that sucked.

It's nice to be a different person now. If this was anything, it was cathartic. I'm not anti-WoW, it's a good game but I'm not for it either, given my experience. I've sworn of MMOs, given as with my history I'd end up having to make a choice between real life and a virtual one. This sucks, as the DC Universe and Lego Universe MMOs look interesting, but I'd rather have a girlfriend than phat lootz any day of the week, month, or year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Knight, the Devil, and Death: Grant Morrison's incredible saga of the return of Bruce Wayne

I had a discussion with my girlfriend recently about the academic legitimacy of comic books when compared to other finer arts and literature. Let me say that I agree that while graphic novels are part of the collective monomyth and all those Jungian archetypes, they can never hold the true legitimacy of real literature because of the simple fact that they are comics. Comic books often have multiple writers and reboots, with different people establishing different ideas on how they want to see characters. That alone seperates comics into their own separate and distinct universe which allows them establish their own stories that flow with changes in culture. Comics adapt and change with society, and while they provide good mirrors to culture, establishment of canon prevents the vast majority of running superhero comics to be counted as true literature.

Comics can be critiqued through various schools. Wonder Woman has seen her share of feminist theory for sure, but the fact of the matter is that comics are just comics, and despite how people like myself dress them up for academia, they are largely inaccessible save to those who truly know the canon. And yes, there are widely acclaimed graphic novels in the academic community. Persopolis, Maus, and American Born Chinese instantly spring to mind, but these are self-contained personal stories. They could be actual books if their authors had chose to format them that way, but they chose to do them as graphic novels instead.

Comics books and graphic novels are entirely different entities. A graphic novel is exactly what it says it is: A novel with pictures. These can legitimately be called literature. Maus is just as moving as Eli Weisel's Night. However, the vast majority of superhero comics can not be held at that same literary level. It's a sad fact, but it's one we as comic fans have to deal with. The idea of comics studies seems fun, but unfortunately its a field that will never take off. It's an interesting topic, I know, but the very nature of the comic book defies literary criticism.

I write about comics because I enjoy them. I think analyzing the heroic ideals of batman or the meaning of death in comic books is fun. I am aware that I am weird. However, it's very hard to translate comics outside of their perscribed universes. You can compare Superman to Jesus or Hercules, but not to Shakespeare. Nobody in Othello had heat vision, and Romeo and Juliet were not retconned back to life. It's easy for comic fans to see parallels because all of our heroes originate from basic ideas.

Also, superhero comics today are based around canon established decades ago, meaning the writers are generally basing their stories on what they read as a kid. Geoff Johns obviously loves the silver age Justice League because they are all apparently back, and any newer hero is sadly displaced. However, we as comic book readers love when canon ties together (this will come in later). The whole genre is based on appealing to fans and attracting new readers, which is what separates superhero comics from the rest of literature. There is a fan base. It needs to be appeased and new readers need to be brought in to keep DC and Marvel floating. This commercial drive is the wedge that will forever split the mainstream comic book from graphic novels like Maus.

I say this all sadly. I'd love to spend my life writing about comics, but there is very little legitimacy. Comics are fun, but will never be fully accepted. It's something we as fans and readers need to accept, deal with, and then go back to enjoying the best publishers have to offer.

The best, of course, being Grant Morrison (finally on topic now). If there is one man who could bring a shred of academia to the comic community, it's him.

Grant (can I call you Grant?) is intelligent, and his stories play on two levels. At first, they are just exciting and fun and suspenseful, really everything a comic book needs to be enjoyable to read. However, without a decent understanding of gothic art or mythology, a large portion of his Batman and Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne is completely missed. I have so much to say about the honest-to-go masterpiece I finished today. It is, in my opinion, the best series I have ever read. Yes, Geoff Johns, I enjoyed Blackest Night, but Grant brings a hefty weight of actual intellectual content that actually makes comic books seem a bit smarter. Your zombie heroes were cool, but Grant Morrison has a grasp on the English language and culture as a whole that makes him better than really any other comic writer I have ever read.

Morrison does this incredible thing where all of his storylines come crashing together. I find myself rereading him over and over to try and catch all his references not only to other comic books but also to literature, art, and music. I cannot possibly list them all, but they are without question phenomenal. He may know everything, or is consistently on Wikipedia.

Let me give an example of this (spoilers)

Thomas Wayne AKA Dr. Hurt has been repeatedly referred to as the devil. With his mask on his shadow looks like a horned demon. He is the Devil referenced in the title of Knight, the Devil, and Death, which is a famous piece of Gothic art. At one point the Joker gives a brief monologue about a banana, and how it represents the "primal gag": The fall. He then tosses the peel on the ground. Keep this in mind.

At the end of the arc, Hurt is running away from Batman and encounters the Joker. The Joker and Hurt are not on the best of terms. Sitting on a stump, the Joker points to a gun on the ground, and says "Betcha can't reach the gun before me, gambler." Hurt races for the gun, slips on the banana peel and falls, only to be buried alive while the Joker laughs about how his plan went to Hell.

Hurt is very clearly now the Devil. He gambles and falls. The fall refers to the Devil gambling with God and being sent to Hell.


It is also only one of the little details that takes many rereads to notice. Anyway, it's late. Sorry about the rant at the beginning, but it's my blog so deal. Grant Morrison, If you ever read this, thank you for an amazing story. You're what's right with comics today.

In summation- If you want an example of a phenomenal superhero comic- this is it. It's canon heavy and Wikipedia will help with a lot, as well as the annotations. Without them I would have missed so much. They do great work, and the fact that there is so much information present gives credit to Morrison as a writer. The entire arc is nothing short of brilliant, and the best today's comics have to offer.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hast Thou Considered the Shepherd?

God bless Joss Whedon. Though his shows may be dead he lives forever in our hearts and in Dark Horse Comics, where his Buffy: Season 8 and Serenity/Firefly graphic novels are released unto an adoring public.

I, being a die-hard browncoat, picked up The Shepherds Tale on Wednesday. It's the long awaited backstory of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from the Serenity crew. It does a fantastic job telling the story of his life, right up to the point where he is killed on Haven in the movie. I'm not going to go into a lot of spoilers, but it's a very compelling story.

It's also got some great monologue. Book is very philisophical, and there is a fantastic point where he is talking about soup. It's honestly brilliant.

Book's story is told through vignettes, almost like they're flashing before his eyes as he passes away. They go further and further back in time until his childhood. The entire painful, violent, lonely, and abusive. At the end, Whedon reveals that part of the story is centered around "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?" by The Mountain Goats. For those of you familiar with the song, it explains a lot about the book's tone (no pun intended).

Firefly fans: It's a must-read
Everyone else: you could probably care less, so watch the show and become a Firefly fan.

Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod- listen to this whilst reading.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kick-Ass #2, or Dave Lizewski Explains it All

For a kid who supposedly messes everything in his life up, Dave Lizewski is surprisingly assertive in his decisions. No matter what lessons life teaches him, especially that YOU SHOULDN'T BE A SUPERHERO one, he shrugs them off and goes about his merry way. I mean, I'm just saying that if I was such a self-proclaimed failure, I'd be a lot less cocky.

Dave is incredibly unlikable. His actions make things worse. It's incredibly rare that he really does anything right. I can't take him seriously because he whines all the time and has to call the cops for help when he gets into a bind. He's just kind of a douche, an idealistic and well-meaning douche, but a douche nonetheless.

I've read a decent amount of Mark Millar. Civil War is phenomenal. His Flash stuff is solid too. I'm just sick of him going for this shock value crap. Nemesis is kind of garbage. I keep hoping it will get good and quit trying to just be controversial, but I'm 4/5 in and still disappointed. Kick-Ass was great because of the idea: A kid in our reality decides to be a superhero.

I'm going to go through it, of course. I'm sure it will end up being okay and entertaining, but I'd just like Mark Millar to write instead of trying to make me flip out over the fact that his characters say fuck a lot.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bruce is Back, Baby

Return of Bruce Wayne #5 came out this Wednesday, along with a plethora of tie-ins about his return to the present. I can't begin to talk about how much I loved this series, especially the characterization of Bruce as more than just brood and gloom and as a really whole person. By using his closest friends and allies, as well as proteges and an unknown offspring, Bruce is truly realized beyond his Dark Knight identity.

Grant Morrison is an incredibly surreal writer. He incorporates sound into his books like no other comic author I've seen. In Final Crisis, music plays a huge role. The Ultima Thule, the inter-dimensional ship used to gather up the Supermen of the multiverse, looks like the yellow submarine of Beatles fame. It is driven by what appears to be an organ and a harp. Overman (Nazi Superman) and others talk about the "great and terrible music" of the multiverse. Grant Morrison uses this overarching theme of life and the universe(s) as just vibrations combining into this music. Superman defeats Darkseid by canceling out his vibration (Darkseid, the anti-life, is cited as having "always hated music).

In Return of Bruce Wayne, there is the sound of bells echoing throughout the story. Whenever Bruce is about to the bells sound, the "Bells of the all-over". You can actually hear these frantic bells ringing, summoning Bruce to his ultimate destiny. The are like alarms, warning us of the imminent danger of Bruce's return and what crisis #6 is going to bring.

There are some new tie-ins out too, involving Red Robin, Dick, and Damien, as well as the other members of the Bat-verse (yes, I said that). These might have needed to wait a week or so because (spoiler alert), they kind of take away from the climax of #5 and #6. You'll understand if you read it. It's a must for any Batman fan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Batman #703

I've read a fair amount of Batman, but it's always been more of the dark knight and less of the Batman and Robin stuff. I'm fairly new to the mythos and all, but I've been catching up recently, especially after watching the absolutely fantastic Under the Red Hood.

I really like the character of Dick Grayson. He bring a completely different atmosphere to the caped crusader. Dick is funny and easygoing as opposed to Bruce's general brood and gloom. It's great that he's finally getting some time in the forefront.

The relationship between him and Damien (the current Robin) is incredibly tense. Damien is Bruce's son, raised by the daughter of Rhas al Gul. Essentially, he is a tiny little stoic badass. He speaks without contractions, uses the term "unwashed masses", and does a lot of flips. Damien and Dick really help flush out the character of Bruce, and it's important because right now the idea of Bruce is really the focus of the Batman series.

I'm hoping to read more about Dick (haha) in the next few months, especially what will happen when Bruce returns. Anyway, Dick Grayson is awesome.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

I know that this a bit late for a review, but it was new to me, so hush.

This weekend I saw Batman: Under the Red Hood. It's a DC Direct-to-DVD animated film based on the Batman Storylines Death in the Family and Under the Hood. Death in the Family is one of the quintessential Batman stories, concerning the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Flashbacks to this story set the stage for the movie, so take notes.

This is not a movie for kids. Granted, it is animated Batman, but this is not the Brave and the Bold. This is kind of Dark Knight. There is blood and violence, including headshots and a person getting his head slammed into a bottle. Granted, it's pretty badass. If it was not animated, this movie would be as well recieved as The Dark Knight. It is suspenseful, and the Joker is just as unnerving as he is in The Dark Knight.

It's a shame that so few people are going to see this movie. It's really good, to say the least. Batman fans need to watch it. It's the best of DC's animated films, and sets a good precident for the future. 5/5 stars or whatever.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wade Wilson's War

I am unabashed Deadpool fan. I think the character is absolutely hysterical and innovative (even though he is kind of a rip-off of Deathstroke). I like the consistent breach of the fourth wall and his obvious insanity. It's a good read when you've been neck deep in "serious" stuff or floating in a sea of crossovers. I really enjoyed Merc with a Mouth, and Suicide Kings is hilarious as well. So, months ago when I first saw Wade Wilson's War, I figured it would be a good, fun, read.

It starts out with Wade testifying before the Senate. It ends... I can't really explain it. It's way different from any other Deadpool story I've read. Deadpool is insane, sure, but it leaves you questioning the very nature of the book. But it's a Deadpool story!

Issue four is honestly thought-provoking and deep. It's sad and serious, but with that same Deadpool attitude that counters the actual depth of the story. It really leaves you questioning which story is true, and if Deadpool even exist in this world at all. It's got a sort of cliche ending, but in the way that is not at all pretentious. It's rather moving. I don't want to spoil it because I really do reccomend reading it, especially for fans of Deadpool.

Deadpool quotes David Simon at the end of book four, and that dialog right there sums up the book. Again, the stark contrast of the creator of Homicide: Life on the Streets and the Wire with Wade Wilso is incredible. This is it right here:

"See, I wanted you, dear reader, to hear the truth. Or parts of the truth anyway."

"Hey! Don't get your panties in a bunch. This is drama, not a documentary. As writer David Simon once said, "We know more about human pride, purpose, and obsession from Moby-Dick than from any contemporaneous account of the Nantucket whaler that was actually struck and sunk by a whale in the nineteenth-century incident on which Melville based his book. And we know how much of an affront the Spanish Civil War was to the human spirit when we stare at Picasso’s Guernica than when we read a more deliberate, fact-based account... Picasso said art is the lie that allows us to see the truth."

It's good stuff. Read it, especially if you're a Deadpool fan. If you're unfamiliar, it's a powerful story on its own. If you don't like Deadpool, this is Deadpool as you've never seen him before.

"All I can tell you... and this is the honest truth... life's what you make of it."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reviews (this and last week)

Some new stuff is out: here's how good it is:

Brightest Day: Making progress. It's slow, but the Hawks and Martian Manhunter have been better elaborated on. Geoff has remembered this is, after all, a GL storyline (sort of), and so Deadman is headed to see Hal. We are on the upslope now, so eventually this will be sorted out.

Batman 701: This is part of the Final Crisis saga, as Bruce prepares for his eventual death. It's interesting to see his perspective as he heads towards omega. I plan on keeping up with this and all the different parts of Return of Bruce Wayne, including Time Masters (because it has Booster Gold).

Green Lantern Corps/Emerald Warriors: The GLC is good. Cyborg Superman is a pretty good villian, albeit strange that he is now more of a Green Lantern baddie than a Superman one. I am looking forward to seeing the Alpha lantern thing being resolved. Emerald Warriors is Guy Gardner being Guy Gardner, and having some sort of deal with Atrocitus. I'm not really sure what they're up too, but Kilowog and Arisia are with him, and it seems like it will be important to the overall story arc.

Last, and most certainly not least is Spiderman: One Moment in Time. This is the retcon of MJ and Peter's wedding after Marvel editors decided to destroy one of the most important relationships in comics. I'm really enjoying this. It's very emotional and suprisingly serious for a Spiderman story. No spoilers, but it's honestly fantastic, even though it should not exist in the first place.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Moment in Time

The Peter Parker/ Mary-Jane relationship is one of the cornerstones of comic book couples. While they aren't the number one on the list (Clark and Lois, I mean, they had a tv show and everything), they are a heavy hitting #2.

However, as anyone who keeps up with continuity will tell you, MJ and Peter aren't together anymore. After Peter unmasks on live TV during the events of Civil War, the Kingpin puts a hit out on him. Aunt May gets shot, and in a last ditch effort to save her, he and MJ trade their marriage for May's life and public knowledge of Peter's identity to be wiped from the general consciousness.

It's sort of depressing when you think about it. Peter and MJ were a very good couple. They have been through thick and thin, and while they are very different people, they compliment each other very well.

I want to talk more about their coupledom, but I'm just pissed they ended it. Peter and MJ were so good together, and now Peter is out there trying to meet someone new. I now they felt it aged the character, but Peter is older. He needs to face the challenges of maturity and grow up. He doesn't have to be all broody or get all serious. Look at Wally West. He grew up and had his own kids. He now has to work with the challenge of being a superhero and a dad at the same time. I'd love to see Peter Parker do that.

Maybe he and MJ will get back together. I hope they do. The end of One Moment in Time is hard to read. It's a brand new day though, and anything can happen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Movie

As someone who disliked Scott Pilgrim, realized that I was supposed to dislike Scott Pilgrim (the character), and then liked Scott Pilgrim a lot, I was very excited for the film. Michael Cera is perfect for the part (the casting is perfect), the style worked great, and the music was pretty good too. The problem comes through with the adaptation to the screen.

The movie is a little bit shy of two hours, with the majority of the movie being ridiculous fight scenes, musical numbers, and one-liners. This is problem number one, because the source material is six rather thick graphic novels chock-full of dialog and exposition. Seven evil exes is a lot to cover in an hour and 45 minutes (roughly 15 minutes per ex). This doesn't leave a lot of room for the emotional content of Scott Pilgrim that made it really appeal to me. Sure it's flashy and kung-fu and "an epic of epic epicness" but it lacks the power of heart that made it so great to read.

The movie does a poor job on Scott's backstory, and by poor I mean that it's barely covered. Scott and Kim's relationship is barely touched, so when Scott apologizes to her I found myself wondering, "what for?" Envy Adams has an incredibly small role, only appearing during with the third evil ex, and her relationship with Scott is immediately forgotten. It builds it up and then drops it to go to a very long fight scene (like ten-ish minutes). Yes, it was cool to look at, but the stylized bass battle takes away from any sort of maturity that Scott could get to (such as legitimate closure with Envy).

Also, the ending (SPOILER ALERT) is kinda weak. It resolves rather hurriedly, and Scott really doesn't learn or grow like he should have. Gideon is not the ASSHOLE, and Scott never really confronts himself (He makes peace with the negaScott, but doesn't except his faults as well). It just sort of cops out and hopes that a happy ending and swordfights will cover for a copout.

These are the complaints of someone who wanted to see a movie of the book. I know that's not possible. This is more mass market appeal and that's great. I'm glad the book got publicity but the movie lacks the power to actually make any sort of statement. Maybe it should have been two movies, or maybe they should have toned down the LOOK WE'RE NERDY LIKE YOU and KUNG FU. Maybe they should have let the graph finish before they wrote the movie.

In short, it's really fun. If you were a big fan of the books you'll be a bit disappointed. I enjoyed it, but I found myself wanting more dialog and less style. Plot is good. That's why the books were popular. Add a little more of that next time and we'll be good.

(I wanted to avoid a rant here, but there is a lot missing from the books and some serious changes that don't really work. I'm not going to list them, just be re-warned)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Brightest Day #7

In a nutshell: better, but not there yet.

It's making progress, now that a connecting plot has been revealed (or at least the semblance of one) other than YOU'RE ALL ALIVE. It still seems incredibly convoluted and confusing, since it is multiple plots driven by multiple characters in different directions. In Blackest Night there was a specific focus on the various lanterns and people who would become lanterns, so two groups which reconnected in the middle of the story. Here it's still all over the place. There's a while left to get the story together, but I'm wanting that sooner than later.

Anyway, it's marked improvement, and once the series is complete I'm sure it will be fantastic. I'm just waiting for a conclusion sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A problem

As I've been doing research for my paper, I've come across a few problems. I just want to rant on this for a minute.

There are some very good books on comics. I've referenced Danny Fingeroth a few times, and I just read a very good one called Superheroes: A Modern Mythology. That said, there are a lot of those X and Philosophy books out there that really irk me. The problem is that these books are more topical, and therefore instantly dated the second the are published. For example, a book that talks about Jason Todd's death is no longer applicable, since he didn't die thanks to Superboy-Prime retcon-punching him into existence. Superheroes and Philosophy is from 2005, meaning they don't get Final Crisis or Civil War. They haven't seen The Dark Knight, read Kick-Ass, or Infinite Crisis. Superheroes and Philosophy has a whole chapter on metaphysics and multiverses based on Crisis on Infinite Earths, but all of that is reinvented by the next crisis.

Another thing is how people think Batman is crazy, and that the costume is some sort of bizarre compulsion. False. Batman is not compelled to do this, he wants to. He can stop at any time. He says so in Identity Crisis. That is an important Batman story. If you don't read it, you lack an important perspective.

I just wanted to say that. Comics are a changing universe. Things are never ever concrete.

What's Wrong With Brightest Day

Brightest Day #7 comes out tomorrow, and I've been thinking about the series a lot.

I don't like it that much. I hate saying that, but it's disjointed, confusing, and has the bad habit of not answering questions but simply raising more. Here's the summary for #7.

"There can be only one who wields the White Lantern...but is it truly Deadman? And what will happen when he attempts to charge the white ring? Meanwhile, Ronnie Raymond risks everything for Firestorm, Martian Manhunter uncovers more clues about the bizarre string of murders stretching across the country, Aquaman searches for the key to the ocean's survival and the Hawks come face-to-face with the evil that lurks within the strange land known only as Hawkworld!"

Keep in mind there are only 32 pages there. 32 pages for 5 different storylines. That is abysmal. I want answers. I want progress. There's barely any overlap to call this a crossover. The brightest day series has just been a disappointment so far. I want to eat my words bad, but I'm doubting that it's going to get better.

Friday, July 30, 2010

To be a God (draft #1)

After reading Prince of Power and re-reading Civil War I've had the idea of Godhood on my mind. After all, in both the DC and Marvel Universes there are a plethora of Gods and God-like figures.

Let's count.

In the DCU there are the New Gods (Orion, Darkseid, Highfather, Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, Desaad, et al), The Spectre (God's spirit of vengeance), the Source, as well as the usual Greco-Roman Gods, and Rama-Kushna (some spirit who deadman believes is God)

In the Marvel Universe there are Heroes like Thor and Hercules who both have their own running titles, as well as entire Pantheons of Greco-Roman, Norse, and Egyptian gods who regularly interact with mortals. Asgard is currently located in the Midwest, taking donations from local groups while they rebuild after the events of Siege. The line between man and god is blurred somewhat when they're taking in pie mix and spam from the locals.

The question that I have is where faith falls into the mix in these universes. What's it like to be a Methodist when you're doing a charity drive for Odin? Can you be a young-earth creationist when Vandal Savage is 50,000 years old? Can you be an Atheist and stand next to the Spectre?
There are angels and devils, as well as heaven and hell. Victor von Doom spent a while in hell, before following Thor's hammer back to our dimension. In Green Arrow: Quiver Oliver Queen and Barry Allen were seen in heaven, alongside Martain Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and who I'm pretty sure is Chris Farley.

In short, there is a lot of proof for at least some spark of the divine. There is a great spiritual influence in-universe, regardless of the actuality of said divine spark. One of my favorite pages on this topic takes place during Infinite Crisis, in which the heroes of the world attend a mass. While Blue Devil ( a good catholic) prays as his skin boils, Mr. Terrific and Ragman sit outside and discuss religion. Ragman is Jewish, while Mr. Terrific is a hardcore atheist.

Even after all he's seen, Mr. Terrific still sciences away most everything, but when gods come from doomed planets as babies or emerge from gamma radiation, it only makes things make less sense. Gods walk among these people. They weave among the skyscrapers to rescue us mere mortals from the mythical opponents they face. They are nothing less than divine from our eyes.

Kingdom Come, by Alex Ross, explores this idea in depth. Playing heavily on the book of Revelation and Superman as a Christ figure, it does an incredible job of placing the human perspective on the superhuman. The story centers around Norman Mckay, a minister without faith in the future, and the Spectre, who has been called down to cast judgment on the events that take place.

The story is full of religious overtones, and laden with quotes from Revelations. The story centers around a conflict between ideals, that of the older generation of of superheroes versus the young. The new heroes lack the morals and restraint of the their predecessors, and threaten to sen the world into turmoil. They are lead (no coincidence here) by a hero named Magog. Magog is violent and cruel, as opposed the messianic Superman,

Superman is a definite Christ figure in this story. The line "second coming of Superman" shows up if you missed it. Superman is a God at this point. He is nigh-invulnerable, and has lost most of his "humanity" after the death of Lois. He is no longer the man of steel, but an avenging angel of a bygone era. He returns from his self-imposed exile to fix the world. That's what he does. In an issue of Superman/Batman, Bats makes the observation that, "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then... he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him."

I mean, people here tell Supes that, "We saw you as gods", and they are. Superheroes, in-universe, are tangible gods of a modern age. They all fall into the "American monomyth" , which is similar to the hero's journey except with more capes.

Danny Fingeroth explores the modern mythology of the superhero in his book Superman on the Couch. People have been telling stories like this for eons, be it Odysseus or Gilgamesh, Hercules or Elijah, these stories have lasted since we first developed culture.

"After all, there have been heroic myths for as long as there has been human communication and story telling. From the Bible stories of Samson and Moses, even the origins and eventual fate of Jesus have many of the trappings of heroic fiction... Yet there are no schoolyard arguments over who's stronger- Gilgamesh or Moses? No internet flame wars over whether Shiva could kick Delilah's rear. Maybe it would be sacrilegious to do so." (Fingeroth, 37)

Perhaps since our heroes belong to us we can claim them and discuss them as we please. Perhaps in ancient times Greeks debated about whether Hercules could beat up Perseus (he totally could). Though all part of the collective monomyth, these specific heroes belong to us, and so we can do what we want with them. I'm sure people called rule 34 on Achilles (not like they had to, knowing Greek myths). I'm sure someone told teamup stories where Theseus and Jason fought a cyclops. We take the central myths and add on to them with our own stories to make them culturally relevant. Consider all the times superheroes have been revamped to make them more modern. Wonder Woman just reached her 600th issue, and with that came a reboot, re-imagining, and a new costume design. There are different versions, different universes, and incarnations.

We have the privilege to re-imagine our gods and heroes specifically for our era, to make them fit into what we want. The stories have barely changed since Gilgamesh. We love to tell tales of Gods on earth and their place in relation to us mortals. I think it would be different if these titans actually walked among us. Part of the majesty of humanity is imagination. Even though we draw from the Jungian story archetype with pretty much every tale we tell, the societal spins we place to make them applicable to our world show true. Superman reflects the tale of a god among mortals, but also the struggle of a Jewish immigrant fitting in in America. Spiderman might draw from the hero's journey, but it entwines the modern context of adolescence and responsibility.

Anyway, as this has been something pieced together at work and late at night, it's disjointed and probably does not make a lot of sense. The point is that every era has it's own heroes. We have ours in superheroes. The represent a great deal of the ideals we as a culture hold dear. In some senses they are like Gods. Perhaps Jesus was simply an orphan child from a doomed planet, or Moses was a Sorcerer Supreme. Hercules might have been real, and could totally whip up on Gilgamesh. All these stories have to come from somewhere, and given as we've been essentially telling the same one since the dawn of man there has to be some grain of truth. Maybe it's late and I'm trying to convince myself that Elijah was actually a Green Lantern and Samson had been bitten by a radioactive spider.

Religion is something that is skirted around in comics. There are deeply religious superheroes, as well as those who could care less. But regardless, there is a religious influence in the Universe, yet people still seem to have faith in a higher power. There are still Christians and Jews, Moslems and Hindus. Green Arrow's son is a zen Buddhist. Despite all evidence one way or the other, despite all the proof of a deity or deities, people have faith.

I think that's an important fact. Everyone has faith, whether in God or Superman, the masses believe in something above them, and despite his efforts Superman is not a man. He is Kryptonian, hiding amongst us earthlings. The citizens of Metropolis see him as a cult god who they can see and praise, a tangible force who can aid them. We place him on the pedestal to worship.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prince of Power

Prince of Power is the story of Amadeus Cho, the seventh smartest person on the planet, CEO of the Olympus Group, and the hier to the Champion status of Hercules. Yes. This Hercules.

Anyway. Hercules is presumed dead and Amadeus takes over. I have never read any Hercules, but after reading some reviews online I thought, "This sounds awesome", and picked it up yesterday. I also got the new Green Lantern, Flash, and Return of Bruce Wayne, but those stories are still caught and tripping over themselves a bit at the moment and so we will get to them later. Prince of Power really stood out for being something new and different and fun, and, while a bit mired in canon, is not swamped in storyline.

The character of Amadeus is quite interesting. He is a scrawny Korean nerd, wielding the adamantine mace of Hercules and with a penchant for chocolate and a healthy amount of teenage angst and jackass tendencies (in the endearing). The most novel thing about Cho is how he sees the world. Being a hypermind, he sees the world as equations and is able to calculate the action most favorable to him. I couldn't find a good picture of it but it's cool.

In short, there's pantheons and mortals, mythology and math. It's very satisfying to read and I plan on reading more, as well as going back and looking at recent Hercules. Check it out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim: A Retrospective (Part One)

After a great deal of rereading, I have decided Scott Pilgrim is great. That said, I'm going to take the next couple of posts to look closer at the characters, themes, symbols, and all that stuff I hated doing in English class. I'm just going to say this once, so


That is all.

There's a very obvious place to start with such a character-driven story, and that is the titular character: Scott Pilgrim. Scott is 23, plays bass (poorly) in a (terrible-ish) band. He has no job, few possessions, and has a habit of sleeping until noon and playing videogames all day. The story is mostly from Scott's point of view, with a sort of muddle consciousness about it. This is, after all, his story pieced together from his point of view (this is something you should make a note of).

Anyway, Scott Pilgrim has this "Precious Little Life", in which his gay roomate puts him through most of the chores of being a productive member of society and he dates a 17 year old Chinese high-schooler. His life is a strange balance, and while delightfully quirky, is infuriating to pretty much everyone else. As his ex-girlfriend Kim says, "Scott, if your life had a face I would punch it."

In walks Ramona and Scott begins his journey of self-discovery and growth. Unfortunately most of that doesn't happen for a while. A lot of the time I found myself thinking, "Man, what an asshole".

Scott is self-centered, in the sense that he is the protagonist here, and so that anything that is not Scott related is swept away. Scott is so busy in volume 5 that he is completely out of the loop on his friend Stephen coming out. Also, since most of the insight into his romantic past comes from him, we get a one-sided perspective of who he is in a relationship. Scott, in a discussion with another ex-girlfriend argues that he was "totally a paragon" during their relationship, a fact that really isn't true. He doesn't have the best memory for the times he's been a dick.

The point when it becomes obvious that Scott is kind of a self-centered ass is in book two when he breaks up with Knives. This girl is kind of obsessed with him, but in the adorable way. She is 17 and absolutely baffled by this apparent badass. However, Scott is obsessed with Ramona and just sort of ditches Knives. He does not really think about her again.

Scott views himself as this paragon hero who has never done anything wrong and is perfect and awesome and adorable, when in fact he really isn't. Whenever Scott is assaulted by the truth about himself, he fights the "NegaScott" a dark-link style version of himself that represents everything he'd done wrong and buried in his memories. Only when he accepts his past can he move on and face Gideon and become a better person.

In the final showdown, when we finally get some insight into Gideon, there's some pretty obvious symbolism. Scott (who "never drinks") spills booze on his shirt and has to change into one with Gideon's logo on it. Scott and Gideon duel, and it becomes incredibly clear that Scott and Gideon have a lot in common, except for the fact that Scott has the desire to change for Ramona. Once Scott understands his shirt logo changes to the subspace star.

Scott was an asshole. However, he had a reason to be better in Ramona. Once he moved on and got it together could they both move forward without him becoming another evil ex. Scott is a few people's evil ex. He was an asshole and I had good reason to hate him. Once he got a job and some closure did he become sympathetic.

Next up- Secondary Characters and evil exes

A Very Blackest Night Retrospective

Blackest Night was one of the first things I ever read in the DCU. It's a great story, provided you started with Green Lantern: Rebirth, because that's where it all begins. This story has been in motion since 2004, and has just now ended. It really is a great saga, encompassing 50+ issues, plus the Green Lantern Corps series and crossover in Blackest Night. In short. It's a lot.
The problem with Blackest Night is the uncertainty of it. I'm not sure exactly at what level of Armageddon this is. Sure, Nekron might be obliteration all life, but it doesn't seem like he has a very good reason or thesis statement or really a good plan to do so. It seems like he's just gotten fed up with things existing and wants to do something. He's like the Grinch who stole corpses (and then proceded to terrorize Whoville with a zombie army).

It is nowhere near the crisis level of Final Crisis in which the entire multiverse is dragged into oblivion by evil gods and vampiric monitors who leech of the bleed between dimensions. It pretty much involves time dissolving into a singularity in which nothing exists but Darkseid.

Blackest Night just feels like an aftermath in the wake of Final Crisis. Barely any time has passed since FC and Barry Allen has come back. I guess Barry's rebirth is the trigger here, because Nekron is rather pissed about it. To sum things up he's just angry and has zombies. I honestly still don't understand why he allowed resurrections in the first place if he's so anti-life.

I think the message here is that life is hard and but that if you want to truly live you have to fight, but that was the message of Final Crisis. Blackest Night is great for the art and the spectacular full-page displays, but it lacks any actual meaning. The last issue does have some very good points and is quite quotable, but overall it's more of a massive fanboy moment than anything.

There's nothing wrong with that, but Final Crisis and Grant Morrison do a better job of meaning and metaphysics than Geoff. Geoff Johns is a good writer and his whole GL series has been great, but when it comes to dialog he's better with quips and one-liners than moving emotional words.

In short, Blackest Night is great and an important part of the GL mythos, but if you don't care for Hal Jordan, or Geoff Johns, stay away. It's a fun read but a lot of the actual power (which there is) is hidden beneath layers of combat and zombies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour & Brightest day 5/6

What right does this series have to suddenly become really good?

Seriously! Here I was being all critical and then the finale is way too good to even get into. There is explanation and closure and an actual meaning here. Needless to say I'm pretty thrilled.

I was skeptical at first, scoffing at the ridiculousness of it and generally being a jerk, but damn it got good. I don't know what more to say. It's good. Much better than...

Brightest Day 5&6: Let me sum it up. Each character gets like 5 pages and crawls along through a plot that somehow relates to the White Lantern. I don't really care about Aquaman or the Hawks. Deadman's story seems very good by he is bogged down by the rest of the series. Seriously guys, get to the point.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, Round Two

In short, I'm still unsure of how much I like it.

Yeah, it's quirky and fun, but at the same time its angst-ridden and full of high-school style drama that just gets annoying after a while.

That's it. This should be set in a high school.

Scott Pilgrim should be chock full of swearing and adult situations, given as it's about "adults", but it isn't. The characters talk like adolescents, and have the same maturity level. Again, it's audience pandering, and I don't really know that I fall into the audience for that. It seems more for kids who like Japanese stuff a little too much and play Final Fantasy with fanatical fervor. The concept of "drama" here is very basic, with love triangles (in reality, that's an oversimplification, given as Scott is romantically linked to every girl in the story who is not his kid sister).

The character of Scott Pilgrim gets on my nerves too. I know that he is supposed to be a lovable slacker, sharing a futon with his gay roommate (they point out that his roommate is gay all the damn time) in a totally hetero way. He has no job, but he's in a crappy band, which apparently makes him awesome. He just sits around and plays bass (poorly) and video games.

Now, generally this can be taken as the affable slacker, a hipster Seth Rogen who, while being lazy and immature, is funny and genuine and makes Katherine Hiegl swoon because he's so different or whatever. The thing is that when it comes to women, Scott's kind of a dick. A good portion of the book is them pointing this out. I don't have a lot of sympathy for Scott here.

The whole evil ex thing is suspect at best too. I guess it will be wrapped up in book 6 but they have taken their time. I mean, without that element it would be just a romance story and then I'd feel even weirder reading it, but it just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I need motive here, and by book 6 we should have gotten there. We are at the peak of our story. This should have been covered in rising action.

I'm going to finish it, mostly out of a desire to get some answers, but I'm still not sure on my final verdict. At this juncture, though, Scott Pilgrim needs to get it together.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Versus Me

Scott Pilgrim is good. I'm going to say that right off. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that this is not an enjoyable read, because it is. I like Scott Pilgrim.


It's good, not great, and sure I am going to finish the rest of the series because I need a fun read after reading Final Crisis, The Killing Joke, and The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan (an amazing and fairly unheard of book that I'll talk about at some point) over and over again. Scott Pilgrim is light and fluffy and has one-dimensional webcomic-style drama that rarely makes you think as well as some very enjoyable action sequences. While these action sequences do tend to leave you with a quizzical look, wondering what exactly happened and how these skinny hipster kids can fight like that.

Be warned that this comic is hip and knows it. There are a veritable asston of videogame references, which grate after a while. It gets old, especially when it seems the book is trying to establish it know more about games than you and was playing Super Mario World when you were in diapers. I love games, but after a while it becomes annoying. We get it. Scott Pilgrim is a nerd. We are all nerds. Let's move on.

I understand that Scott Pilgrim has some manga roots. The art style and the fact that it's tiny and not normal comic book size lends itself more to that (I do not like the fact that this book is small and not in color. I just want to get that out there). This also comes through in the over the top action and general ridiculousness that is Scott Pilgrim. Apparently demon hipster chicks and people turning into coins (yes, we get it, the book is hip) are normal, so the characters barely mention the fact that it's INCREDIBLY WEIRD. The bar for average is very low here.

Anyway, these things aside, it's fun. The less you think, the more you enjoy. I'm going to give more time and see where the story goes, but I'm not holding my breath. I think it can get better and be awesome and turn bunnies into gold robots, but that might just be ridiculous.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Final Crisis and the Triumph of the Human F$@#ing Spirit

I picked up a trade copy of Final Crisis at Ed Mckay's a while back. I had read it before and responded with a resounding "meh". I reread it a bit back and realized that it's actually pretty awesome.

It's much more than just CROSSOVER!!! It's a complex story about human existence and the end of all stories. This is not a bunch of heroes running around doing cool things, but an epic about what it means to be human and life itself.

Human nature, as believed by pretty much every non human in the DC universe(s) and the monitors is to essentially be complete assholes. We are nothing but hopeless barbarians on a primitive mudball who kill each other for no good reason. Humanity and super-humanity is about rising above that primal nature, to be a beacon of hope and fight against the darkness that inhabits our hearts. The anti-life equation of Final Crisis lists the evils of humanity : prejudice, oppression, hate, and ignorance, yet we continue to fight against what is perceived as the essence of our being. Dan Turpin sums it up in Final Crisis #1, "Fire was our first mistake. Like everythin' else the sad stinkin' human race ever thought of, we take a good idea and use it to kill ourselves."

Dan Turpin is a cynic, a pessimist cop who ends up harboring the consciousness of Darkseid. He fights against anti-life, but eventually wanes ("How can I fight if there is nothing to fight for"). He gives in and Darkseid takes over. He and the 3 billion enslaved in anti-life fight against the heroes and villains resisting. Darkseid represents the easy way out. Giving in to him represents giving in to the perils of humanity and anti-life.

The only protection against anti-life is a glyph symbolizing freedom. We have the choice to be more than just hairless apes. Our will allows us to overcome our so-called nature. Even though life is hard and the world sucks a lot of the time, we can press on towards a brighter day. People have terrible, animal flaws (as seen by many evil gods taking somewhat animal forms), but to get all Talmudic for a second, "In a world where no one behaves like a human being, you must strive to be human!"

Anti-life is easy. Living is hard.God help us if we ever give up and give in. Everything ceases to be. The Final Crisis is not just Darkseid, it's the end of all stories because of the ever-constant monitors being effected by our world. The monitors, a race of pan-dimensional beings that feed on the "bleed" between universes make contact with our "germ worlds". They take on all the aspects of humanity, betraying and conspiring, but also loving and feeling. As always the negative shows up with more gusto, and two monitors fall from grace and give in to what the perceive as their nature: universal vampires. Superman, in exchange for bleed to save his dying wife, goes to fight against him alongside Ultraman, Overman, Captain Marvel, and Allen Adam (read: Dr. Manhattan with clothes).

Superman, of course, is the one who ends up fighting Mandrakk the Dark Monitor, and in a beautifully written scene, displays his undying hope and unyielding belief in the innate good. He refuses to give up on anything. He is the best we have to offer, and no matter how much cooler Batman is, Superman is the living embodiment of human good. His story is simple: that of ultimate good versus ultimate evil. He is the only one trusted with the design for the miracle machine, and uses it for the best of the universe. He wishes for a happy ending. The Final Crisis is supposed to be the end to all stories, but as Superman engraves on what was supposed to be his tombstone: To be continued.

To be continued. Earth endures. The true triumph of humanity is our persistance, that despite every crisis, every failing, every war we still endure. Grant Morrison has it right, "This world , these amazing people, have faced alien invasions, natural disasters, quakes in time. And always we recover... we rebuild... we continue. Earth endures. It's as if we don't know what else to do."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Calvin: Boy Wonder

I saw a comic called Calvin Minus Hobbes a while back and it got me thinking about the general theme of Calvin and Hobbes: imagination and childhood. It's a comic that has been lauded for it's philosophical and whimsical nature, as well as just how hilarious it is. I would say it's the best comic of all time. It is pure and beautiful.

Sorry. Fanboy moment. I'll try to keep them to a minimum.

The real debate about Calvin and Hobbes is if Hobbes is actually real. Is he an actual tiger or is he a figment of Calvin's imagination? Are the crazy things Calvin does (going back in time, transmogrifying, going to mars, etc) real or are they simply the fantasy of an obviously lonely young boy.

It doesn't really matter, because all these things are real to Calvin. Calvin believes Hobbes is real and that they have wacky adventures. Calvin may or may not have serious mental and social issues, but that's not the issue at hand. What's incredible about this strip is just the sheer power of imagination. When you read Calvin and Hobbes it's very easy to forget that Calvin is only six and that the stuffed tiger is just that. It's an odd place to find depth and meaning, and yet never seems out of place.

But again, not the issue. What I keep coming back to is just the crazy imagination of Calvin. I think about playing with my legos when I was a kid (read: last week) and never came up with anything like that. Calvin does not have a lot to work with. He has a tiger and his head. He has very generic education-minded parents who did not want him to rot his brain with things like cable tv. Calvin has crafted a world for himself that is pure fantasy and unadulterated awesome.

It's a good lessons for kids today who grow up with thousands of action figures that talk for them, shrieking video games, and hundreds of channels. That kills the imagination. Why write a story when one is written for you? Calvin is a kid who is 100% imagination. Granted, a child psychologist might diagnose him with ADHD or ADD, but those people are cynics. Calvin just loves to pretend, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Bringin' this back to the start. Calvin minus Hobbes is a rather douche-baggian view, one that we seem to love to have, which sucks all the fun out of the wonder of childhood. I know that's the point, but I'll be damned if I like it. I refuse to be cynical on this. Hobbes may be a stuffed tiger, but if he's real to Calvin, he's real to me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brightest Day #4

First off, the title is a lie. I read the whole thing and not once did I see Black Lantern Firestorm, just Ronnie Raymond passed out drunk in contrast to Jason passed out studying. I know this is all building somewhere, but this storyline has the attention span of a hummingbird.

So- things that are happening [spoilers]

-Deadman is getting jerked around by a white ring
-Aquaman is summoning dead sea life
-Ronnie killed Jasons girlfriend while he was a Black Lantern
-Martian Manhunter is not alone
-Hawk is angry (suprise, suprise)
-And Hawkman and Hawkgirl are embroiled in some weird plot with their arch-foe and are now on Pandora or something (complete with hovering rocks)

That's a lot to follow, and not a lot gets covered every issue. Blackest Night had an obvious thesis statement: Zombies and how to kill them with emotion-powers. This is just, well, confusing. I guess the heroes are confused and if Geoff is trying to recreate that for us, good job, but it's not the good type of confusion where I'm worried and wondering what will happen to characters or anything. I just want answers so we can move on.

Brightest Day #4 is good but nothing special. I've not really been disappointed with anything in this arc except the lack of focus. It just keeps bouncing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger with little actual progression save people getting more and more confused and leaving me with and confounded look on my face. I am interested to see where this goes and how it all fits together, but I'm still wondering how they are going to wrap this up in a nice big bow. Blackest Night was good in the sense that it slowly revealed things and had a discernible dramatic structure. There was action and a climax a resolution. Brightest Day just sort of feels like a denouement where everyone is standing around awkwardly standing around wondering what to do.

It's been 4 issues and nothing has really happened in terms of rising action. I'm going to keep reading because I'm already halfway in and I want to know what's going on, and if I don't keep up I'm going to be way out of the loop, but I'd be really happy if Geoff would get to it already.

In short- buy it if you like DC comics and knowing what's going on. It's nice vignettes that may one day become a full fledged story. It's going to get there. I hope.

Float Out, or ZOMG FIREFLY

I'm going to go ahead and get this out there. I love Firefly. It is a brilliant show with a vibrant universe, powerful writing, and amazing characters. It is witty, moving, and just honest-to-god wonderful. I know it was only one season, but I have watched that season over and over again.

Well, after it got canceled, the insa-, er, devoted fans of Joss Whedon nearly rioted, and so the made a movie, Serenity, which was also awesome. After that they made some pretty good comics, just like Buffy: Season Eight, which were set before the movie, because [spoiler alert]- Wash dies. It's the worst thing ever.

Float Out is a group of new people christening their Firefly and remembering wash, who they all happen to know. They each tell a story about Wash, and then christen their ship. It says it's a one shot, but I kind of have my hopes up for a series.

The art is great, the writing is great, and it's just great period. That is, if you like Firefly as much as I do. If you have never heard of it or never seen it (HEATHEN!) then go watch the show and the movie and then read this. You will be glad you did.

What's great about this comic is that it actually manages to add depth to a character who has been long gone. It's not HOBAN WASHBURN: REBIRTH. It's better than that. It gives a powerful backstory to a character who did not have much of a described one (though who did on that show?) and makes everything all sad yet warm and fuzzy in the life-goes-on way.

In short- People who love Firefly, you will love this. People who have never watched it- go watch it.

Nemesis #2

So a while back there was this crazy comic called Kick-Ass about a New York City teenager who decides to done the cowl, albeit sans cape. He has no powers or anything, just a drive to do good and kick a little ass. Nemesis flips that around, where some guy has decided to be a supervillian and a total dick in the process.

Mark Millar does a great job of making the majority of his panels mindbogglingly badass. Kick-Ass had it's decapitations and it's headshot kills, but Nemesis ups the ante with, and I am entirely serious here, with Nemesis doing a backflip on a motorcycle and taking out a helicopter. It's pretty awesome. But...

The thing about Kick-Ass that made it different was that it almost seemed possible. It was some kid who just put on a scuba suit and took to the streets. There was a sort of legitimacy in the fact that he got beaten up literally all the time and never really did anything too unbelievable aside from the amount of abuse he took. Nemesis not so much. Remember in The Dark Knight where the Batmobile becomes the Batcycle? That happens. That sort of jerks the realism of a supervillian/terrorist right out of your hands and replaces it with a ten year old boy saying, "DID YOU SEE THAT IT WAS AWESOME". Yes. It was awesome, now give me my realism back.

I like Nemesis, don't get me wrong, but I'm still a little disappointed in the fact that instead of taking the legitimate-story-telling road and instead went for just HEY GUYS LOOK AT THIS HE HAS A MOTORCYCLE. I like to look at cool things, but I expect a little more story from Mark Millar than I've been offered at this point. Eventually nobody cares if you have excessive gore and fuckwords in your comic if you don't have a good story. Kick-Ass? Good story and identifiable characters. Nemesis just seems like it's already been turned into a movie and they've removed a lot of the compelling themes and story elements in favor of explosions and jetpacks. I mean, if you look at our protagonist, Chief of Police Blake Morrow, you can already tell he is going to be played by Harrison Ford.

Maybe it's wrong of me to be expecting depth and an actual plot that doesn't seem like a Die Hard movie or something, but I was just expecting a little more for Mark. He does good work. I like seeing awesome things. It just seems like this is just a loose collection of them strung around a loose plot. I'm going to keep reading and hope a decent story blooms, but until then, I'm just going to look at the pretty pictures.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Time Lincoln!

A while back I had the wonderful fortune to read a comic by the name of TIME LINCOLN, a wonderful little piece so ridiculous that it must be written in all caps. It is utterly, stupendously, and oh-so marvelously preposterous that it makes for an incredible read and I am honestly waiting with baited breath for the other installments of TIME LINCOLN, including the soon to arrive TIME LINCOLN VS MEPHITLER (Yes. That is Mephisto + Hitler, which of course = awesome).

TIME LINCOLN is the story of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who somehow has harness temporal energy to face off against his nemesis, VOID STALIN and his squadron of historic evildoers including Napoleon (who appears riding a large man in a diving helmet), MEPHITLER, and Mao Tse-tsung and his squadron of "Time Fighters". TIME LINCOLN'S team of historic do-gooders includes Albert Einstein, a psionic staff-wielding Ben Franklin, George Washington Carver and his freeze-ray (he did more than just peanuts), and of course Isaac Newton and his trademark energy swords.

From what little I can gather, anyone with a profound effect on history can engage in time travel given they have the appropriate steampunk gear. Everything is all rayguns and goggles and copper and I honestly could not love it more. It's been a long time since I've seen something this ludicrous and I read Deadpool. Even Deadpool gets swept up in Skrulls and drama and X-factors, and even though he would rather be at home watching Bea Arthur he still has the occasional moment of seriousness. TIME LINCOLN is so over-the-top and deadpan that it comes full circle and becomes pure, unadulterated fun.

What I really love is how the writers manage to say everything with a straight face. I can't even write TIME LINCOLN without giggling to myself about Abraham Lincoln fighting a void-imbued MEPHITLER atop Mt. Rushmore, or, and I quote, defeating VOID STALIN'S trusted leftenant with the "Lincoln back-fist". I spent most of last year swept up in the Blackest Night event, and don't get me wrong, it was good. But it's really refreshing to see something that is so amazingly different and lighthearted.

Different is really good in comics. I think that's why a lot of people, myself included, really liked Kick-Ass. It was a completely separate thing from all the continuity and just something fun to read. Of course Mark Millar had to ruin is by making his main character a stagnant angsty teenage chronic masturbater who is meant to represent the entirety of the comic-reading community and then of course by making his story all serious, just disguised with copious blood and swearing. One of the reasons I really enjoyed the Kick-Ass movie was because it decided to do the opposite of the comic book and grab all that grit and angst, take it up really high in a jetpack, and then let it fall to the earth like an Armenian with a history of mental problems.

Every so often readers need a break from Black Lanterns and Identity Crises and Skrulls. Angst gets tiring and becomes an incredible burden for anyone who actually wants to enjoy reading. I love all that drama and emotion, but I love TIME LINCOLN. It stands out simply because it is a beautiful piece of sheer ridiculous. I am always happy to read into the personal tragedies or heroes and the inner turmoils of villains and all that but it gets old. Thirty pages of Hal Jordan trying to understand basic emotion month after month is great for meaningful plot and character development and all those things that people like me use to suggest that comic books can be put on the same level as actual literature, but thirty pages of Abraham Lincoln fighting Hitler? That's fun.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yo, Bruce Wayne, I'm really happy for you and I'ma let you finish, but Green Arrow had one of the best rebirths of all time.

I recently picked up a copy of The Return of Bruce Wayne, which was awesome. Cave-Batman descending on a few marauding archaic Homo Sapiens with a suit made out of a giant bat is one of the funniest things I've seen in comics. I'm not against Bruce coming back. I think this is a great storyline. However, I just think we've seen enough of the rebirth stuff.

People die in comics all the time, but when a hero dies it's always big news. The Death of Superman was one of the best selling comics of the 90s. People who didn't care about comics were actually interested, which is exactly why DC chose to kill off their flagship character. Granted, he was back in a matter of months (and still with that horrible mullet) but the point was that he died. For the record, the storyline wasn't even that good. Superman and Doomsday just kind of beat up on each other until they both collapse in the ruins of Metropolis (insurance premiums must be terrible there).

There are much better deaths in comics. Barry Allen runs himself to death destroying the Anti-Monitor's cannon. Hal Jordan redeems his actions as Parallax by reigniting the sun. Captain America gets shot by a sniper for his part in the Civil War. Even Sue Dibny, the wife of the second-string hero Elongated Man, has a more meaningful death than Superman. For the record, Bruce didn't technically die, his consciousness just got blasted into prehistory, but I call it as close enough since all his friends thought he was dead and he was cut out of the DCU for a bit.

But, part of why Superman's death means nothing is that he came back so fast. Hal's death was pretty short-lived too, given as he became the Spectre very quickly after his passing. Captain America was back in a few years, and Buffy came back in time for a new season.

I give the most points to Barry Allen, simply because he took his time with it. He was dead for 23 years. He popped in and out of reality every so often, helping Bart imprison Superboy-Prime, but he stayed dead. Corporeal Barry Allen was a non-entity, and life moved on around him. His wife lived on and so did his friends, which made it even more awesome when he came back. People weren't used to heroes dying and coming back, unlike in the modern age when, during the funeral of the Martian Manhunter, Superman actually says, "and pray for a resurrection." That right there takes a lot out of the idea of heroes coming back.

Coming back to life shouldn't be commonplace. In Blackest Night #8 a plethora of dead heroes and villains magically appear thanks to the white light. Most of these people have not even been dead 5 years, with the exception of Deadman who's superpower was, well, being dead. Barry waited 23 years and then came back like a champion, running out of the speed force. People were excited by that. The whole "live" thing was cool, but that was mostly because of the 4 page spread.

Granted, Blackest Night was supposed to be all about death and resurrection and the emotional sides of our heroes ending with a retcon of the creation story, so resurrections were expected. At the end, everyone was looking around for Sue and Elongated Man, who were nowhere to be found (probably due to their bodies being disintegrated by Indigo-1). I was really happy that they didn't come back. For one, nobody really cared about them before Identity Crisis, and two it would have cheapened their death. Even if there had been some lovely Star-Sapphire based resurrection, it still would have been hollow. They were better characters dead.

A lot of people died and came back in Blackest Night. Kyle Rayner dies in GLC 42 and is back in 43. The love-based resurrection is a nice touch there, only because it solidifies his and Soranik's bond, but still, he's dead for maybe a minute total before he pops back to life.

What I guess I'm getting at is that death doesn't really mean anything anymore. It doesn't matter to readers, and it barely means anything in-universe. People shrug off death like it's nothing because they know they are going to come back. There used to be a quote, "Nobody stays dead except for Uncle Ben and Bucky".

Bucky was resurrected in 2005. Stay tuned for Ben Parker: Rebirth.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

You are Kick-Ass

Warning- spoilers for both the movie and comic

One of the main criticisms on the Twilight series is that it's protagonist is nothing more than an empty shell so that a reader can project herself into the story and fantasize about actually being the main character: just an average girl mixed up with an emo vampire.

Mark Millar does this with Dave Lizewski in Kick-Ass. This remarkably unexceptional high school student, who sits around playing World of Warcraft and masturbating is meant to represent you and me. To be fair, if you were to look at me a little more than a year ago, you would see something eerily similar. Dave is an exaggeration of the stereotypes on people who read comic books. Chances are, if you picked up Kick-Ass at your local comic book store, or being unable to afford it like me, downloaded it (I'm sorry Mark Millar, I'll buy it one day, scouts honor) you found yourself seeing a lot of yourself in Dave. You and your friends sat around having the same discussion about how Peter Parker should have built his web shooters in the Spiderman movie, and you probably played a fair amount of video games, and made regular deposit in the "whack-off warehouse".

Makes us sound pretty awesome, doesn't it? A lot of readers were not too happy with how Millar portrayed the people who were buying his comics. However, the main thing we have in common with Dave is not a love for comic books or sexual frustration, but the desire to be a hero. We all have gone through that awkward phase where girls don't notice us and we just pray every night that a magic ring will fly into our window or our mutant powers will finally develop, because that will make everything better. Even now, when I have an awesome girlfriend and am substantially less of a screw-up I still want to wake up, bathed in green light, with some ring telling me I have the power to overcome great fear.

Now here is why Dave is awesome. Dave goes out and does something. Unlike us, he goes out and does something. He puts on a stupid costume and goes out to fight evil. Granted, he does not really get a lot done. He is still just a scrawny nerd in a scuba suit, but it's the fact that he at least tries.

It doesn't work out to well for him in the comic book. He got his genitals electrocuted, was nearly beaten to death multiple times, and at the end of it didn't get the girl. In the movie though, it was a different story. He actually got the girl, got to use a jetpack with attached chainguns, and got to beat the hell out of McLovin from Superbad. In short, he came out in the win column.
When I saw him on the jetpack, I thought two things. First was the normal "no way that would work/this wasn't in the comic" rage spike. Then I noticed how awesome it was. Then it was more of a "I want to do that" because let's be honest, that was pretty damn cool. Superheroes make all of the stuff they have to put up with look fun. They throw around some witty banter, beat up bad guys and then save the girl, All in a days work. While dealing with a psychotic clown or planet-devouring purple guy is a total pain, to be fair it sounds a lot better than doing homework or the everyday things we think are such a hassle. They make it look like the greatest time in the world, and we are swept in by it because we want to believe it'd be just like that if we were the one in the cape and tights.

I know when I imagine myself as a superhero (more often than I'd care to admit) I'm all kinds of clever. I throw one-liners out at my archenemy who curses my name and swears revenge upon me, but I still kick his ass and save the day. The crowd cheers, music plays, etc, and there is a happy ending and then the audience exits the theater. The ending to the comic is a little more realistic. Dave may win vs. the Mafia, and he and Hit-Girl hero it up and lay waste to John Genovise's mobster fortress, but he still got the hell beaten out of him. Big Daddy is shot right in front of him, and it turns out he was just another wannabe. In the movie, he is a hero ex-cop, betrayed because of his honesty. In the comic he is an accountant who makes up the story to give his daughter an exciting, atypical life. Then, after all of this Dave goes and tells Katie he isn't gay and that he loves her, and instead of her incredibly positive reaction in the movie, she has her boyfriend beats him up and then sends him an explicit text message of the two of him.
It sucks to be him. It sucks to be a superhero. If they don't try to have fun doing it then it will drag them down. Look at Batman. He is a bitter old man at the end because he doesn't have a lot of fun. Dave ends up being a cautionary tale of "Don't try this at home".

Of course we still hunt down this outlet for our hero instinct wherever we can, whether white-knighting on the internet or saving a virtual world we want to be heroes. We don't want to be the losers we are every day, but the savior of a planet or conqueror of evil. I know I do. I'd much rather be Kick-Ass then write about him, but I have exams to study for and I really don't want my testicles electrocuted.

The great thing about comic books is allowing for that moment of fantasy, where just for a second we can see ourselves in the shoes of our heroes and dream about fighting the forces of evil rather than working at a crappy job or sitting through a boring class. Just for one minute, you're kick-ass.